Edited by Berl Kahan
Issued by The Suwalk & Vicinity Relief Committee Of New York
New York, 1961
|Rabbi David Lifshitz
|J. Simon (deceased)
Rabbi David Lifshitz, Honorary Chairman
Hyman Seligson, Chairman
Lazar Pearlstein, Secretary (deceased)
Dr. David Mirow
To obtain additional volumes of this Yizkor Book, contact
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Bronx 57, N.Y.
Printed by Twersky Brothers 1555 Macombs Road, New York 52, N.Y.
By Aaron Seligson
This Yizkor Book is an attempt at group biography. The history of its subject, the Jewish community of the Suwalk vicinity, is traced from the time of its founding through to its catastrophic destruction.
More than twenty years have now elapsed since the outbreak of the Second World War and the ensuing and almost complete annihilation of the Jewish Community in the Suwalk vicinity. Time enough for us to view the events in their proper perspective. Suwalk was the first city with any sizeable Jewish community to be conquered and occupied by the Nazi horde. It, no doubt, owes this prominence to its strategic location in the triangular area formed by the borders of Poland, Prussia and the Baltic States. The course of events affecting Suwalk Jewry, the stages of humiliation and annihilation at the hands of both the German Nazis and the violently antiSemitic Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian peasants, was to be paralleled in the history of the treatment given and the attitudes shown to other Jewish communities unfortunate enough to find themselves under the dreadful yoke of Nazi domination.
This volume is a memorial book dedicated not only to those who lived in the Suwalk vicinity, or those who grew up there, or studied there, or served their military duty there, or migrated from there or even perished there, or the descendants of all the foregoing, but it is a book dedicated to World Jewry, not only of this generation but of all generations past.
It is a book written with a very familiar theme and a recurring history. The story is as old as the Bible itself. The settlement of Jews in a strange land; how they prospered and how they multiplied through the years remaining, nevertheless, always strangers in a strange land no matter how long their tenure or how great the contribution to their society. Then, a time of stress and crisis and finally of social disorganization with its accompanying stages of humiliation, degradation and annihilation. The story varies only in degree. So was it in Egypt, so was it in Persia, so was it in Spain, so was it in Germany and so it was in Suwalk. Fortunately, the familiar theme and the recurring history do not end at this point. For, no matter how great the persecution, no matter how great the violence perpetuated upon the Jewish community, there was and will always be a survival and a rebirth. So be it.
This Yizkor Book is written the, both as a memorial to our dead and as a symbol of our rebirth. It is written to show the world the spirit of the Jew. As important as mere personal survival is to each and every one of us, the survival of an idea, of a faith, of a religion, of the right to be different is more important even life itself.
Each time we take the Book in hand we reconfirm our faith that we as Jews cannot be obliterated from this earth. For, no matter how many of us are gassed, or how many of us are cremated, so long as one of us survives, or so long as one of our books remains or one of our ideas endures, we survive and our culture, our heritage, our tradition is transmitted, as if by a lit candle, from one generation to the next.
And so, the story of Suwalk is written to acquaint the living with the tragic events of the past. It is written so that we may take pride in our heritage, courage in our actions and reinforce our faith in our ultimate survival and rebirth.
In reporting the history of Suwalk we do not concern ourselves with the story of individual Jews but are primarily concerned with the inner life of the Jews of Suwalk as a whole; their culture, their institutions, their religion all as expressed by an organized articulate self conscious community of Jews who show their sense of togetherness, , or as some call it, their sense of distinctiveness in a concrete manner, whether it be in their political, social, philanthropic or cultural sphere and whether it be in Suwalk itself or in the lands to which these Suwalk Jews emigrated.
Because of the surrounding forests, the Lithuanians thought that the area would make a perfect place for a penal colony, and so, late in the Dark Ages, Suwalk was founded. In 1336, Poland assumed dominion over Suwalk as the result of the marital union of Polish and Lithuanian royalty. In 1795, Prussia became Lord and Master of Suwalk and the Prussians ruled until 1807 when Suwalk took on a French flavour under Napoleon's rule. It is under the enlightened reign of Napoleon that the first Jews, fortyfour in all, were permitted to settle in Suwalk itself. That was in 1808 and the Suwalk vicinity, one imagines, must have appeared as a great cosmopolitan area to those Jews; for the Prussian influence was still greatly felt; Suwalk itself was under the control of the worldly French; Scottish rebels had made a settlement in the adjoining town; the countryside was Polish and the Latvians and Lithuanians were only a short distance away.
Although Suwalk itself was not opened to Jewish settlement until Napoleon's time, there is considerable evidence to support the view that Jews were permitted to settle in the surrounding countryside for centuries. There already was a Synagogue in the adjacent town of Wilkowishk as early as 1623. In 1815, Suwalk became a part of the Tsar's empire and remained Russian until the end of World War I when Suwalk once again reverted to Poland.
There was an increase in both Jewish population and agitation under the Tsar. In an ironic sense, it was the tyranny of Russian rule that spread the fame and influence
of Suwalk. By 1862, after a series of unsuccessful Polish revolts and the stimulus of an increase in persecution, widespread emigration commenced. Suwalk Jews emigrated to the four corners of the world. Their destinations were such far away strange places as New York, Johannesburg, the Argentine, Hungary, London, Montevideo and the Holy Land. Zionist Suwalk, it can noted was the first community to actually send envoys to Palestine to purchase land. It should also be remembered that the immigrants from Suwalk were the forefront in the migration from Eastern Europe and that it was as a result of their influence and aid that the orientation of the News in the new World changed from a German and Sephardic influence to one of East European domination.
The sons of Suwalk helped start a Jewish press in New York, aided in the formation of the Hias, underwrote and founded New York's Beth El Hospital and Suwalker Schules and were responsible for countless other civic and community projects such as the establishment of a Suwalk Relief Committee of New York, now in existence for more than 40 years, which continues to be dedicated to the proposition of aiding Suwalk Jews caught in the whirl of history.
And so, this chronicle of events is written, not as a replacement for the millions of burned books, but as a pledge to those who have gone before us that their suffering, their ideals and their martyrdom will not be forgotten. It is written as a guide to us, the present, to be wary with regard to our rights and liberties as free men in a free land lest we be once more snared by the destiny of history. And, finally, it is written to serve as a reminder to all of us. that no matter what the future may have in store for us we are certain of one thing; there will always be Jews and therefore there will always be someone who will remember.
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